Becoming a Foreign Exchange Student: Step By Step Guide


Becoming a foreign exchange student is a rewarding experience. Many college students have either made up their minds to become foreign exchange students for a semester or just toying with that idea.  Either way, your life will never be the same once you decide.

Foreign exchange programs offer various options; that’s why our article can help you become more familiar with the concept of a foreign exchange student and becoming one. So, if you’re interested to know more about it, this step-by-step guide will help you with that.

What is a Foreign Exchange Student?


As the name suggests, a foreign exchange student is a student who goes to a foreign country abroad to study and live as part of an exchange program. As part of their course of study, these students will enroll in classes at a local university or high school.

In the U.S, exchange students are encouraged to have extracurricular activities which enhance their experiences. Among many educational benefits, foreign exchange students also have a chance to develop critical thinking, improve their English language skills, and learn more about cultures.

Becoming a Foreign Exchange Student: Step By Step Guide


Becoming a foreign exchange student is exciting, but the process is not that much. This process will require some research and planning beforehand if you want to have a memorable experience. You want to find the right exchange program, a host country, search for scholarships, etc. If this looks intimidating to you, don’t worry! Our guide will provide you with the information you need before and during your application process.

Research study programs

If you have already decided on becoming a foreign exchange student, it’s time to research study programs. Ideally, you want to research programs during January to apply as early as possible, most preferably four months earlier.

The number one criterion that exchange programs have is academic success. If you’re in an excellent educational place, foreign exchange programs will most likely consider your application. However, before deciding on a study program, think about the country you want to study in.

We’ve compiled a list of programs that are certified by the Council on Standards for International Student Exchange, and you can check them out yourself:

Identify the host country & university


Another important foreign exchange student’s concern is choosing the country and university where they will have their experience. When considering the country you want to study in, it’s essential to think about your head and heart. A good host country must have three things:

  • Be safe
  • Have a first-world health system
  • Have no mass social unrest

Some countries may not be safe due to civil wars, oppression or discrimination against minorities, or because they don’t like foreign people. It’s essential to research your host country and check if it’s a safe country with a Western-standard medical system. After all, your health is your priority.

After choosing your country, the next thing is to decide on a university. Here are some essential criteria to consider:

  1. Pick your discipline: you might find some interesting Bachelor’s or Master’s programs, but the most popular fields include finances, economics, marketing, health sciences, or public health.
  2. Decide where you want to study: do some research about the country or university with the study programs you’re interested in. Also, consider career opportunities, living costs, facilities, or transport.
  3. Use search engines: professional web platforms are helpful when you want to get information about a particular university and what options it offers. You can check websites like Bachelorsportal, Mastersportal, or PhDportal.
  4. Look for international University Rankings: The best ranking systems give an outline of international universities, such as

Provide language proficiency scores

If your native language is English or your country uses English (75%), you don’t need to submit language proficiency scores. You can’t expect to study in a country where you don’t have basic language proficiency skills. But, language requirements can vary between programs and countries.

Specific programs require a B2 or C1 level of English, so you need to have proficiency scores in tests such as:

  • IELTS – 6.5 or 6
  • TOEFL and TOEFL IBT Home Edition 100 or 87
  • Cambridge Certificate in Proficiency in English (CPE)
  • Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) level C1
  • Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) B2 or C1.

Submit the application & supporting documents

Before submitting your application, make sure that you have written an excellent exchange application if you want to impress everyone. After writing a killer application, you should find an agency to begin your application process. This multi-layered process includes:

  • Information about your family and home
  • Home visits
  • Background checks
  • References

If you filled out an online application, you are required to upload supporting documents, such as:

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  • Passport biographical page
  • Transcript (in English)
  • Proof of Bachelor’s degree if you’re applying for master’s courses
  • Documentation of English proficiency
  • Proof of financial support

Consider the financial aspect

The financial aspect is not a pleasant process for any student. Besides spending money on your academic year, you should also consider the expenses for your daily activities. Foreign exchange programs can vary, but according to the College Board, the estimated annual fees for undergraduate students are:

  • $17,580 – community colleges
  • $40,940 – public colleges
  • $50,900 – private colleges

These are a broad overview of the costs because the costs can vary based on the institution, program, or length of study. Through exchange program providers, students can find host families, book rooms, or long-term apartments.

Search for available scholarships

If you need extra help for your exchange program, you can always consider exchange student scholarships. The simplest thing to do is apply to as many scholarships as possible. But, always remember to check with your program provider and see if they offer partial or full scholarships. Here are some scholarship search websites to try:

State Department Exchange Programs

US exchange programs provide opportunities for foreign students through their programs. The U.S Department of State also offers opportunities for U.S citizens who want to go abroad for professional exchange.

Opportunities for US citizens

The U.S Department of State provides scholarships for U.S citizens who want to study abroad and live with host families for three weeks up to an academic year. Here are some scholarships offered to American citizens:

Opportunities for non-US citizens

Non-U.S. citizens are always welcomed in the U.S., and the State Department provides scholarships for foreign exchange students who want to pursue an educational or cultural experience. Here are some available scholarships which offer many programs:


If you’ve come this far, you can imagine how exciting being a foreign exchange student is. This experience can be rewarding if you know how to do your research beforehand. If you can get out of your comfort zone, you can learn about new cultures, languages, and ways of learning and make lifelong friendships.


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